Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Blue Birds and an ARC Giveaway!

This is the reason I love well-written historical fiction: It draws me into a place and time that I am barely familiar with, brushes me with information and imagery, and leaves me wanting to know more.

Enter Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group USA). Written from the points of view of two fictional characters: Alis, the daughter of one of the British colonists to settle Roanoke Island and Kimi, a Native American who lost her father and sister at the hands of the English, this novel-in-verse creates a plausible story of the British who came to be known as the Lost Colony
"Roanoke map 1584" by John White - A British Museum photograph of the map. [1]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
Roanoke is the small pink island in the middle right.
Rose's excellent deep POV makes the reader feel like you can reach out and touch the protagonists; their longings, conflicts, beliefs and fears are exposed to the reader in simple, yet powerful language. The alternating viewpoints are an excellent way to show what it meant to both the English and Indians for colonists to settle the New World.

Be warned. In order to share the beauty of Rose’s free verse, but at the risk of including some spoilers, this review consists of portions of the novel. (Please note: I am quoting from an ARC which is the uncorrected text.)

The book opens with the colonists’ arrival at Roanoke and Alis remembering her uncle’s words when he give her a small carving of a bluebird. This snippet foreshadows Alis’ conflicts: 

“The graceful bird
its wings rest so daintily.
This Uncle Samuel promised me:
Birds return home
no matter how they fly.
One set free might wander

but will eventually rejoin his flock." (p. 28)

Kimi watches with curiosity as Alis explores the area outside the palisade. Kimi is surprised to find a young girl in their midst; she longs for the her dead sister’s company. But she also deeply mistrusts the English. She returns to work with the other women:

Like the corn,
a woman
spreads her roots wide,
like the bean,
a woman
settles her roots deep.

If we hope to rid ourselves of them,
push them from us
Once and for all,
We must do it
Before their roots take hold." (p.34)

Their first meeting is poignant. First from Kimi’s viewpoint:

Her eyes fly to me,
grow wide
but do not falter,
though she wears panic on her face.

Her skin too delicate,
like a thin-barked tree;
her body bundled,
thick like a caterpillar." (p.45)
Then Alis’ viewpoint:
she stands.
Markings spiral up her arms,
snake down below her fringed skirt-
the only clothing she wears-
Like fine embroidery stitched into skin.
Copper flashes at her earlobes,
a rope of pearls encircles her neck.
Short hair covers her forehead,
the rest gathered behind.
She studies me."  (p. 46)

Kimi finds the wooden bird when Alis accidentally drops it. Alis doesn't go anywhere without it and Kimi assumes it is a source of power to her. Here are Kimi's thoughts and observations:

"I dance her wooden bird
across my fingertips,
perch it on the back of my hand.

The girl is not welcome here.

Her hair,

so colorless,
her eyes,
pale pools of water.

I imagine her

cowering in her village
without her power.
I want to see
her weakness.

She comes 

from brutal people,
yet is as loving 
with her mother as we are.

Can both things be true?" (p. 62)

The girls, both longing for a friend, are drawn together risking discovery and disapproval from their families. From Alis:

"I stay
long enough to study
the patterns on her arms,
close enough 
to meet her eyes
with no urge to lower my gaze.

We are not together, 

but neither are we apart.

Three times 

I have come here.
Three times
we have met.


fascinating, fragile
grows between us." (p. 94)

Even as they are drawn to one another, tragic events swirl around them. Their budding friendship is tested by old prejudices, present fears, and the painful consequences of their families' decisions. From Alis:

"I cannot escape the truth
that living here brings danger.

    I imagine meeting Kimi

    in a place we mustn't hide.

It never was expected

we'd remain on Roanoke.

    If we had never journeyed here,

    how much my life would lack.

We are impoverished,


    I'm most myself 
    when with her.

How might I find peace

when two worlds war inside?"  (p. 311)

This beautifully written novel will be an excellent classroom resource for readers ages 10-14.  And even if you don’t win it, I hope you will read and/or purchase it for the middle grade girl in your life. The images of friendship, loyalty, and self-sacrifice—and the blue birds themselves--will stay imprinted in your mind long after reading it.
North Carolina
Outer Banks

Click here for an interview with Caroline Rose. And click here for a link to the September issue of Talking Story, where Joyce Hostetter and I are giving away this ARC in our issue on Character Education. Leave a comment on this blog to be entered once in this giveaway; leave a comment through the newsletter and I'll enter your name twice. 

"Croatoan" by Unknown - English Wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
The author’s notes at the end verified how well Caroline Rose used the minimal facts we know about the Lost Colony and the Roanoke and Croatoan Indians. 

Note: This review was initially posted on LitChat


Linda Phillips said...

You know I want this book, Carol. Thanks for the great review!

Connie Porter Saunders said...

I also love historical fiction and I would enjoy learning more about The Lost Colony.
Thanks for this giveaway.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Connie and Linda. You guys start the list!

Rosi said...

Nice review! I have read and enjoyed this book. No need to enter my name in the drawing.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
I love how the author changes points of view to show both sides of this intriguing story. Carol, you have a way of explaining things in a simple manner. Thanks for reviewing different stories to give us a wondrous view of the situations the characters face.

Linda A. said...

Sounds great! Free verse, blue birds, The Lost Colony, and a friendship that "shouldn't be." You shared some lovely images. Thanks for another great review, Carol. I'll post to FB, but leave my name out of the drawing this time.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Joan and Linda. I'll enter your name Joan.

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks Rosi. I know you loved this book too!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

I've always been intrigued by the mystery of Roanoke. Thanks for sharing about this new book and giving us a few excerpts. I'm not reading much MG these days, so don't include me in the drawing.

Vijaya said...

I love Caroline's work. And thank you for giving away your ARC ...please put my name in the hat.

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks, Clara, for commenting. And Vijaya--you're in!

Gail Hurlburt said...

Thanks for sharing. Please enter my name. Thanks!!! I will share with a teacher friend or a grandchild.

Gail Hurlburt

Carol Baldwin said...

Gail, I'd be happy to include your name. Thanks for entering!

Anonymous said...

Carol, I love discovering new books to read on your blog through your reviews -- even if I read them weeks after you post :)

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